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#13 - Consultant: The dramatic improvements in productivity

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Complete Question Explanation

Resolve the Paradox. The correct answer choice is (E)

The consultant describes an apparently inconsistent set of facts. On one side, during the Industrial Revolution, dramatic improvements in productivity were achieved in large part by standardization of processes and procedures combined with centralization of planning and decision making.

However, in recent years, many already productive companies have further improved their productivity by giving individual employees greater influence in decision making and in how they do their work. This is surprising, because the modern companies are achieving further productivity even though they are acting contrary to the techniques of standardization and centralization that successfully increased productivity during the Industrial Revolution.

However, this difference between productivity in modern companies and productivity during the Industrial Revolution is surprising only if you assume that what made an organization productive during the Industrial Revolution would continue to make modern organizations more productive. This assumption requires that the people, the technology, and the tasks of the Industrial Revolution organizations were similar to those of the modern organizations. The stimulus provides no reason to think this similarity exists.

The correct answer choice in this Resolve the Paradox question will identify some difference between the modern, productive companies and the Industrial Revolution-era organizations that produces the apparent discrepancy described above.

Answer choice (A): The stimulus focused on those modern companies that were already productive. This answer choice is incorrect because it refers to most companies. It is not clear that “most companies” are already productive, and so this group may be different from the companies discussed in the stimulus. Further, this answer choice provides information that avoids the apparent discrepancy, by saying most companies still apply the techniques of standardization and centralization that were used with success during the Industrial Revolution.

Answer choice (B): The fact that job satisfaction increases when individual employees are given greater control over their work does not resolve the issue of how modern companies can act in ways contrary to the techniques that achieved productivity during the Industrial Revolution, yet still achieve productivity.

Answer choice (C): This answer choice avoids the apparent discrepancy by shifting the focus away from the changes regarding standardization and centralization of decision making to the introduction of advanced technology as the reason for recent increases in productivity.

Answer choice (D): This information runs counter to what creates the surprising situation in the stimulus, that modern companies are giving individuals increasing influence in decision making and in how they do their work, yet still achieve additional increases in productivity.

Answer choice (E): This is the correct answer choice. Individual employees in the modern companies have innovative ideas that, when applied broadly by management, result in increased productivity, even in companies that are already highly productive. This answer choice resolves the apparent discrepancy by showing that greater influence by individual employees in decision making and in how they do their work does not necessarily equate to a lack of standardization or centralization. The improvements in productivity come from the broad application by management of these ideas. So, while there is still standardization and centralization, those standard policies and centralized decisions are made after considering innovations solicited from individual employees.
15veries
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Hi,

I was not sure between C, D, and E especially between D and E.
Is C wrong because it talks about technology?
Is D wrong because it does not talk about whether it improved in productivity?

Thanks
Emily Haney-Caron
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Hi 15veries,

Can you walk me through your approach to this one a bit more? That will help us give a better answer more tailored to you!
awilt
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Hi!

I'm a little bit confused on this one, particularly between D and E.

I chose D because to me it read that these companies have been highly productive because of employee influence, and now are becoming more productive with standardization. Basically an opposite answer to what the premises said, which would make sense. But according to your explanation, I read it wrong.

E just didn't stand out to me in any appealing way. I read through it quickly and eliminated it. Is this one of those questions where it's only right because the others are wrong, or am I missing something in reading the answer choice?

Thanks!
Annie
Dave Killoran
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Hi Annie,

Did you get a chance to study the explanation above? It goes into pretty good detail for this one—can you point me to where it didn't make sense for you?

Thanks!
Dave Killoran
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awilt
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Hi Dave,

Yes I did get a chance to read through it. On E, the part that I was still confused about, is the explanation states that greater influence by individual employees in decision making and in how they do their work does not necessarily equate to a lack of standardization or centralization. However, it doesn't say that anywhere in the answer choice and I would not have made that connection for fear that I was making too broad of an assumption.

Therefore, I found E to be too broad of an answer choice overall because it does not directly address any of the stated premises. Overall, I just found this to be very confusing. I'm not sure if you are able to help elaborate or if I'm just not making the connection.
Dave Killoran
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Hi Annie,

Ok, that helps—thanks!

This is a good example of a stimulus where on the surface things seem contrary, but when you look more closely, you find that they are not. First, as noted in the explanation above, we are talking about two very different time periods, and there's no reason to assume things stayed the same over the years (in fact, making an assumption similar to that is often a problem for LSAT authors in other questions). In fact, the stimulus gives us a key piece of information when it discusses the modern companies, by saying that, "Yet, in recent years, many already productive companies have further improved their productivity..." The italicized phrases in the prior sentence show that the discussion of modern companies is talking about ones that are already productive but that are getting even more productive. This specification can help us understand how to apparently opposing ideas both yielded increases in productivity.

To help explain that idea, in class I've often discussed how back in the Industrial Revolution, you were dealing with the dawn of modern production, and not much was known about how to produce items on a large scale. To make thousands of shirts, for example, it went from a roomful of people making each one individually to a machine that could do the same portion of work over and over. In that transition, standardization of processes and procedures would help make the work go faster and easier. Note also here that the stimulus mentioned that "centralization of planning and decision making" also played a role, which is akin to having a brain to operate all your limbs versus each limb just doing what it wants! Plus, at this time, you could achieve large productivity gains because you were starting near ground zero in terms of efficiency. Now, fast forward to today. Things have changed over the years, and we understand productivity better, and how standardization can help with productivity (LSAC would say this is commonsense information, and not an assumption; you are expected to know that things like the Industrial Revolution occurred, and how they broadly affected society). Now, we have companies that are already fairly productive, and looking for ways to get better. One avenue to explore is to whether standardization might have gone too far (this isn't known; I'm using this as part of my explanatory example, so just go with me here for a moment :-D ), and another avenue is whether the broad standards that have been applied are indeed the best and most efficient ones. Maybe in these already productive companies, there's so much standardization that it's a diminishing returns scenario, or that alternately you could come up with even more productive standards than the ones currently in use. Perhaps freeing up certain employees might result in a way to create even more productivity. The question is, how?

Answer choice (E) gives us a way to understand how this might work. You may note that (E) is very specific: "Increases in productivity in highly productive companies depend on management’s broad application of innovative ideas solicited from individual employees about their work." Essentially, this means that individual employees are allowed to change up things inside the broad routines, and in doing so they at times discover slightly more efficient methods. Those are then shared with management, who then spreads those new best practices company-wide. In this way, the already productive broad standards are made even more efficient and productive. Fine-tuning is one way to describe it.

Let's also look at answer choice (D), which reads: "The innovations of the Industrial Revolution are only now being applied in those companies in which individual employees have traditionally been entirely in control of how they do their work." While this explains how some modern companies get productive, it doesn't explain why in already productive modern companies they are freeing up individuals. It actually misses the point of resolution entirely, because what we had was Industrial Revolution companies becoming more productive through standardization and modern companies become even more productive by using individuals, and here we have modern companies using standardization. In a certain sense, this is a shell game answer because it throws around the right ideas (innovations/individual employees) but aligns them improperly. Specifically, we want to know why freeing up individuals in modern companies produces more productivity when previously it was standardization, but this answer talk about standardization at modern companies instead. It tells us nothing about individual employees other tan that they previously had full control.

Please let me know if that helps. Thanks!
Dave Killoran
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